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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

Update from Indonesia

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope this message finds you well.

Travel here was difficult but well worth the effort. We left Princeton in the early morning on Wednesday, August 30th. Flew 14 hours to Tokyo (never knew 3 square meals could be served on the same flight!) then continued onto Jakarta. One more flight took us to Jogja (short name for Yogyakarta) where we will be staying for 7 months starting on October 1. We (6 other Princeton students + 3 program directors) have been engaged largely in orientation since arriving here in Indonesia; this includes cultural awareness lessons, language instruction, and team building. Our long-term service officially begins in October. Until then, we will continue orientation with some travel around the country.

Due to the difficulty of conveying to you everything that will occur during our journey over the next 9 months, I will attempt to forgo general descriptions and instead focus on “snapshots” of our time in Indonesia: interesting occurrences, cultural surprises, embarrassing stories, inspiring revelations, etc. I hope this approach will lend you a more profound understanding of our experience. I will include photos when possible.

I attached a few photos to this post. The first was taken somewhere 34,000 feet above the Chukchi Sea. The temperature outside the plane was a balmy -70 Degrees Fahrenheit. Good thing I had my sweatshirt.

Next photo was of our first breakfast in Indonesia. When we heard the hotel would deliver food in the morning, my mind went to a typical American breakfast (eggs, bacon, waffles), so I was definitely surprised when I received a carton of fried rice, sate (chicken on skewers), a cube of scrambled egg, a slice of cucumber, and some sponge cake to top it off.

Note the water bottle in that photo: All tap water in Indonesia is undrinkable, so one has to always have a ready source of bottled/filtered water on hand for hydration. This has been an interesting transition. It is peculiar to consider that when I shower or wash my hands, there is a decent chance that the water I use contains cholera or other diseases. This also means that cool drinks are rare (refrigeration is scarce, and you cannot use ice). My showers are now colder than my drinks (much colder).

I did not plan on posting photos of Indonesian bathrooms, especially in my first Yak, but it has been a central part of our transition, so I might as well. The third photo shows a standard Indonesian bathroom (a really nice one, actually). No Western toilets here; the squatty potty reins. The other Princeton students and I are definitely on the squatty potty bandwagon already: a great workout for your legs, feels natural, and everything just lines up. You have to experience it to believe it.

As you may notice, there is no toilet paper in the bathroom (Indonesian sewer systems cannot handle paper waste), nor is there a hose. There is, however, a basin of water and a bucket. So when I asked why toilet paper was missing, I was told that my “left hand, a bucket, and some water is perfectly adequate”. The excitement continues: in front of the basin is a drain… the bathroom also serves as a shower (one pours water over themselves with the bucket). There is no sink in the bathroom, so you have to go elsewhere (usually the kitchen) afterward to wash your hands with soap and water. I found this debacle highly amusing until I realized it is my reality for the next 9 months, which was a sobering moment. Welcome to Indonesia.

The fourth photo is of a coconut tree. You may notice what looks like footholes dotting the trunk of the tree, all the way to the top… these are carved by coconut farmers, who climb the trees (no ropes) to harvest the coconuts.  Often they bring a machete up with them. These trees are everywhere in Indonesia, lining the roads and separating property lines. This particular tree looked to be around 60-70 feet tall. Due to the nature of climbing, small men/young boys are best fitted to do this job. Thus, it is not uncommon to see 10- or 12-year-old boys shimmying up and down these trees to get at some coconuts. Knowing that this is how my coconuts are acquired makes them taste much better.

We are traveling for the next few days to the remote village of Langa on the island of Flores, where we will finish our orientation. After that, it’s back to Jogja in late September. Much more still to come.